The Rundown: How the Cubs Fill Anderson’s Rotation Spot, Szczur’s Roster Spot

It didn’t matter that Brett Anderson “felt something” (in his surgically-repaired back) after fielding a bunt in yet another disastrous 1st inning Saturday, though his inevitable trip to the DL will necessitate a change that was already in the offing. The Cubs were going to need a new starter after Anderson posted a 21.94 ERA across the 1st innings of his six outings, allowing a .467/.543/.800 slash line and a .558 wOBA.

Some of you might look to his .395 BABIP against and say the lefty is just being bitten by the bad-luck bug. Except that BABIP works both ways, which in this case means Anderson’s pitching contributing mightily to the likelihood of batted balls landing for hits. Primarily a groundball pitcher, Anderson has given up line drives at a 32.9 percent clip, the highest of his career and nearly twice his aggregate rate (17.3). He’s also walking more batters than ever (4.91 BB/9), relatively speaking, and isn’t generating enough strikeouts (6.55 K/9) to make it a wash.

What I’m getting at is that this might not be just an issue of Anderson being injured, we may be looking at a pitcher who’s thoroughly broken. I was as bullish on the signing as anyone when it happened, having penciled Anderson into the rotation slot from the jump. But in looking at his performances this season — even the “good” ones that were largely smoke and mirrors — I don’t see how the Cubs can move forward with him in an integral role. Which means needing to fill his spot on a more permanent basis. There are a number of options, only two of which really jump off the page (and Joe Maddon has said as much).

Mike Montgomery is the clear successor, what with his pedigree as a longtime starter in the minors and for a while with Seattle, not to mention his fill-in role with the Cubs last season. He had been the de facto fifth starter prior to Anderson’s arrival and just happens to be a lefty who can keep the configuration of the rotation intact. But he’s also had struggles as a starter, especially when it comes to turning the lineup over. I’ve argued in the past that his stuff actually plays better in the bullpen, so the Cubs could go a different direction if they agree.

Eddie Butler was an interesting acquisition this past offseason, one of those under-the-radar moves this front office is known for making. A former top prospect in the Rockies organization, Butler had fallen out of favor due to flagging performance and was basically being donated to the transactional Goodwill store. But the Cubs saw something in his changeup and a slider that has velocity similar to Jake Arrieta’s, so they went out an added him as a depth piece. And a small tweak to his delivery in Spring Training may have meant big things for Butler’s production.

Prior to going on the DL with a rolled ankle, Butler had gone at least 5.2 innings and 88 pitches in four starts, giving up a combined 4 earned runs. After returning from the shelf Saturday night, he shut the Memphis Redbirds out for 6 innings, holding them to only 4 hits with no walks (though he did hit two batters). He doesn’t have a lot to prove at AAA at this point and could be the right fit to fill out the Cubs’ rotation.

Though he’s a righty, Butler has been a reverse-split pitcher who has gotten better results against lefty hitters than righties over the last few seasons. And with his ginger beard and much more slender frame, he’s kind of like Brett Anderson Light. It’d be like a physical changeup, which is fun.

I want to see Butler given the shot here, but with Rob Zastryzny now on the roster to take the spot vacated by Matt Szczur’s designation, I’m thinking Montgomery slots back into the rotation.

Who fills Anderson’s roster spot?

This is where things could get interesting, since we’re probably talking about the Cubs calling up a bat. They replaced Szczur with an arm to ensure a little protection for the pen in light of Anderson’s “embarrassing” start, but they’ll want to flesh out the bench a little more at this point. To be clear, I’m not saying they knew Anderson’s implosion was coming, but I don’t think it was entirely unexpected either. Sometimes you have to make absolutely certain something is broken.

I know a lot of folks are clamoring for Ian Happ, but that just doesn’t make sense at this point. Szczur had only gotten 23 plate appearances, the equivalent of maybe five starts, across 15 total games played this season. You want your stud do-everything prospect to come up in order to pinch-hit every other game or every third game with an occasional start once a week? Didn’t think so.

Given my druthers, I’d be looking at John Andreoli, the speedy outfielder who really made a name for himself this spring starring for Italy in the World Baseball Classic. He doesn’t have much of a future in a crowded Chicago outfield, but Andreoli is a perfect bench player whose speed would be very useful late in games. He’s sort of like Szczur in that sense, a defensive replacement who can run and hit in a pinch. And he might be in need of another showcase.

Not that the Cubs will be calling a guy up just to raise his trade value, but Andreoli’s future is likely elsewhere. The same could be said for any number of his teammates — Mark Zagunis and Bijan Radmacher come to mind — though you’d like them getting more everyday at-bats. Zagunis, however, is intriguing as an on-base threat; he leads the I-Cubs with 19 walks and his .373 OBP is nearly twice his .200 batting average.

Of course, there’s also Tommy La Stella, the other half of the Szczur equation. Is there an agreement, either spoken or tacit, that their fates would be linked? Bringing La Stella back gives more time to the other middle infielders at Iowa and he gives the Cubs a solid lefty bench bat.

I’m going with La Stella coming back, but would not be surprised to see Andreoli coming up.

More news and notes

  • Miggy Montero shut the Yankees down in the 9th inning

  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman was prepared to help Joe Girardi land Cubs job in 2012
  • Noah Syndergaard to avoid throwing for six weeks
  • Dexter Fowler says shoulder is just sore and that he is ready to return
  • Pirates place Jameson Taillon on DL
  • This Marlins sale just keeps getting weirder, with Alex Rodriguez reportedly turning down offer to join Tagg Romney group
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